The key to enjoying fishing starts with the proper set up of your fishing pole. A lot of that is dependent on the type of fishing you plan on doing such as saltwater vs freshwater, surfcasting from a beach or fluking on a party boat.  For now, when talking about how to set up a fishing pole for beginners, let’s concentrate on freshwater for ponds, lakes, and streams, and go from there.

You’re going to be setting up your pole more often than you think because you’re bound to snap your line on an underwater log, overhanging tree branch or the “big one” and then you have two choices. Either go home, or tie another lure like a beginner and keep fishing.  So pull up a chair, your new fishing pole and line, and let’s get you set up.

The first decisions to be made are the length of the fishing pole and the type of reel. Typically, a freshwater fishing pole for a lake or pond would be six or seven feet, but it should be about a foot shorter if there are a lot of overhanging branches or for streams. Freshwater fishing poles for children are typically shorter so they aren’t too awkward to handle.

Holding the Rod

fisherman holding fishing rod

Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

When holding the rod, place two fingers in front and two in the back where the reel attaches to the rod. Your thumb should be on top, not only to stabilize the rod as you cast, but in the case of casting and bait casting reels, to hold down the button that lets the line out. With spinning reels, your thumb is just to hold the rod while the opposite hand opens the bail. Keep in mind the former two reels are usually ambidextrous because the button to cast is in the back of the reel while the handle of the latter can typically be switched to either side to accommodate righties and lefties.

The reel is just as, if not more, important than the pole. Beginners, especially children, should go with a casting rod and reel or a bait caster due to the ease of operation, as opposed to a spinning reel. Most retailers are going to sell rod and reel combinations, so once the proper length and reel is chosen, the next step is putting line on the reel.

Which Kind of Line Is The Most Important?

Spinning reel with bail, open top Spinning reel with bail closed middle and baitcasting reel with line leveler

Image Credit : Joseph Cea.

Next is choosing which kind of line is important and each has its pros and cons. For a beginner, it’s best to try a single variable and that’s to try and match the color of the line to the color of the water you’re fishing. That’s because fish do actually see the line and may not bite as a result.

For example, if you’re fishing in relatively clear water, go with clear monofilament line and if the water is a bit murky, a darker green may be the one to go with. Of course the more you fish, the more refined your preferences will become, and at some point you may decide to go with a braided line. More than likely, what’s going to happen is you’ll end up with several poles each set up a different way for different fish.  There are literally over 20 different fishing poles in my house — I have poles set up for salt water, fresh water, boat rods, fluke, trout, bass.  You name it, I’ve got a rod for it.

Tying the Line to the Reel

Following the line choice is then tying it to the reel. The knot used is simple to tie and durable because it tightens down on itself when pulled — not that an angler should get to that point where the knot keeping the line on the reel is the only thing between landing a nice fish and talking about the one that got away.

For a bait casting reel follow these steps:

  1. String the line through each eye on the pole starting from the tip going towards the reel and then through the line level (which most bait casters have to ensure the line is evenly distributed across the reel)
  2. Then around the reel itself leaving about ten inches of line to work with and keeping both ends of the line pulled tight.
  3. Then take the working (short) end of the line and wrap around the main part anywhere between seven to nine times. This will create a loop at the bottom you then put the working end through.
  4. When you do this, a second loop will be created that you then also put the working end through and then pull it tight. In order for this knot to loosen, it has to pull on itself which is impossible.
  5. For a spinning reel, string the line the same way except open the bail and put the line directly on the reel.

Once the line is tied in place, you can start to reel in the line keeping it tight as you go — you may need a partner for this. The reason to have the line tight as you wind it on the reel is to prevent what is called a “crow’s nest”.  This is when loose line is cast out and ends up like a ball of yarn around the reel.  It really sucks and happens to all of us at some point typically wasting at least 20-30 minutes of fishing time until you re-string the reel.

When I fish, rest assured there’s a bet of some kind involved, with my favorite being first legal fish caught, and so being sidelined for any amount of time could lose me some serious bragging rights. I rooked a buddy of mine out of $50 fluking on a party boat one time because he was too busy pulling out line to re-string a crows nest he got on his first cast because his line was strung too loose.

Tying On Lures

At the other end of the line, a beginner should tie on a swivel using the same knot as described above. This will allow you to quickly switch lures if need be and even put on hooks (for live bait) with a leader already attached. If you’re going to use live bait then starting out should include a bobber.

Usually, bobbers are bright colors or red/white so they’re easily seen and attached to the line at the top and bottom by pressing in the brass hook on each end that allows the bobber to sit straight up and down in the water. Your bobber should be attached to allow a baited hook to sit about 12 inches off the pond bottom (bobbers are typically not used in streams because they’re designed to sit and not move like they would in fast moving water). Rookie anglers can then see when a fish is nibbling on or taking the bait because the bobber will be dragged under.

Relax and Have Fun

Once your basic tackle is set up, the rest is trial and error as far as what lures and baits work in certain areas.  Don’t worry about not landing the “big one” because fishing is all about relaxing and having a good time. Besides, a bad day fishing is always better than a good day at work/school.  I lost count on how many times I chose fishing overwork/school but it wasn’t a one-time occurrence!

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or veteran angler please feel free to leave a fishing tip in the comments below. Personally, I’ll take any advice if it means one less snag!